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INTERVIEW

Chadi Bahouth - “It is very hard to stand your ground inside a newsroom where you are the only person coming from an ethnic minority in a big group of middle-class, white people”

Journalist talks about the importance of diverse newsrooms

Chadi Bahouth attended session 573 The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage and Renewal

Andrea Abellan | 29.03.2017

Over the past couple of years, countries in Europe have been coming to terms with a rising increase in the number of migrants and refugees crossing borders. As the fourth estate, the media plays an important role keeping the public informed on the issues which arise out of this influx of people. Some news coverage has drawn criticism however for being limited and portraying one side of the story. Chadi Bahouth, a German journalist with Palestinian-Lebanese roots, advocates for the importance of diversity in the newsroom and for the media's role in facilitating integration and social inclusion of ethnic minorities. Bahouth spoke to Salzburg Global while he was a participant at Session 573 The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage and Renewal.

AA: You are a member of the New German Media-makers (Neuen deutschen Medienmacher – NDM), an organization that aims to promote diversity and inclusion in German newsrooms. What projects do you carry out as part of the NDM?

Ethnic minorities are still very marginalized in German media. At Neue deutsche Medienmacher (NdM) we try to raise awareness about this situation and lobby for greater diversity within the profession. This is our main ambition but we are currently working in other projects, too. One of them, called Vielfaltfinder, which translate as “Diversity Finder,” consists of a database of journalists and institutions who are looking for interview partners or panelists for different purposes. The members included in this database have a huge expertise and they all come from ethnic minorities.

We also run a mentoring program for refugee journalists. These professionals frequently come from countries with very high levels of repression where media freedom is not understood as in Europe. For this reason, we first explain them how things work – or should work – in Germany. We introduce them to our political and media system. It can feel like going back to school and relearning what for us should be the principles of “good journalism.” Unfortunately, these values frequently remain only ideals, and when they start to look closer at what the German media are doing, they realize that things do not always function as they should. We seek to reinforce their critical voices.

AA: What do you think is the influence of the media on the rise of populist movements in Europe?

CB: In my opinion, the media have a high-level of responsibility on the rise of votes that rightwing populist movements are reaching. These groups are receiving larger visibility, which obviously increases their popularity. For instance, in Germany there have been many demonstrations against the trade deal between Europe and the US – TTIP – but they have been barely covered by mainstream media. In contrast, the actions carried out by of the highly racist PEGIDA group are constantly in the spotlight.

Apart from this, I fear that media editors are increasingly adapting the language used by the rightwing populist parties. They both tend to oversimplify complex issues by asking very dangerous questions such as the common “Is Islam dangerous?” What would happen if we exchange Islam by other terms such as Jews or Judaism? It would be breathtaking and unimaginable; I don’t think anybody would dare to ask that. Some Jewish activists keep saying that Islam is the new Judaism and, in a certain way, I agree. The stereotypization and discrimination that happened in the past seems to be repeated nowadays.

AA: What do you think that could be done to improve media coverage of minorities?

CB: I totally believe in the main goal of our organization: bringing more diversity. It is very hard to stand your ground inside a newsroom where you are the only person coming from an ethnic minority within a big group of middle-class, white people. It is extremely complicated to manage to have your point of view represented under these circumstances.

I talk from my own experience as a German journalist with a Palestinian-Lebanese background. I have been asked so many times to cover Islamic related subjects just because of my origins. Furthermore, I am Christian and all I know about Islam is because I have studied about it by myself. In general, I think that there is a lack of empathy and knowledge that ends up generating this type of situations.

AA: Have you seen this situation become worse through the increasing use of social media channels as a medium to get information?

CB: Definitely. A couple of years ago, people would not write discriminatory, racist comments using their real names, at least they would feel like they had to “hide” under an avatar or a nickname as what they were saying felt wrong. However, nowadays these attitudes seem to be that fully accepted that users feel it is their right to write and share anything.

The NdM is involved in a movement called “No Hate Speech” With it, we aim to report the questionable attitudes enhanced by social media that contradictorily have become a platform for very unsocial behaviors.

AA: During one of the talks you mentioned that “arts are not enough” to solve the problems that were discussed at The Art of Resilience session, namely climate change and cultural integration. Do you have any ideas on how other fields and actions should be integrated?

CB: I do believe in the strong potential that the arts can have, but I think this strength can be increased with a strong companion nearby. This could be translated into having artists working together with psychologists, policy maker or activists, for instance. Art is just one of the multiple factors needed to make real changes happen.


The Salzburg Global program The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal was part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session was supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here: http://www.salzburgglobal.org/calendar/2010-2019/2017/session-573.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

29.03.2017 Category: SALZBURG UPDATES, CULTURE, SALZBURG IN THE WORLD
Andrea Abellan